By Wanangwa Tembo:
Under the blazing October sun, a crew of civic educators from the ‘boma’, community facilitators, chiefs and other stakeholders are seated under a huge Kachere tree enjoying a meal somewhere at Kahera in Rumphi Central Constituency.
It is lunch time and the civic education activity on the roles of councillors and Members of Parliament has gone for a 90 minute mid-day recess.
The stools are not enough; as such, a good number of participants and visitors are seated on the ground in circular groups of five. No lunch allowance will be paid to them; but they are aware and happy.
Chairperson of Kahera Citizen Forum Daniel Msokwa says his group values trainings more than the allowances attached to such activities.
“As community watchdogs entrusted to monitor progress of various development initiatives to ensure that they are implemented according to plan by checking elements of corruption, we benefit a lot from trainings because they help us to detect fraud and to know our rights and responsibilities as citizens. That is enough,” Msokwa says.
Governance and civic education experts agree that Malawi is caught in a web of allowance and dependency syndrome which they say does not only threaten democracy but also voluntary participation in self-help activities hence perpetuating poverty in communities.
Mzuzu University governance expert Chrispin Mphande says the politics of handouts after attaining democracy in 1994 has largely contributed to the culture of allowances.
“From 1994, we have seen people lining up in streets waiting for handouts. We are commercialising democracy; we are making it a money-making enterprise; we are commercialising information sharing which is not supposed to be the case.
“We cannot be thinking of making money by attending meetings. In the end the loser is the community. They will miss out on important information and development. We should stop the culture of handouts. We should stop the culture of allowances,” Mphande says.
He, however, submits that not all is lost, saying things can change for the better little by little if people start appreciating the value of information.
“Let’s live a normal life and stop living a borrowed life. Depending on allowances is living on a borrowed life,” he says.
Vincent Kalawa, a regional civic educator at National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, says the allowance syndrome permeates all levels of society in Malawi and that it is probably more pronounced among the elite than in the villages.
“Just like many other African countries, Malawi is plagued by the allowance syndrome where members of the community expect to be given allowances to participate in an activity. This is despite the activity being conducted for their own benefit.
“Even when service providers are imparting skills and knowledge to help them solve their long standing challenges, the participants still expect to be ‘paid’ for attending that activity. This is an anomaly and a threat to democracy whose life depends on people’s participation,” Kalawa says.
He argues that the allowance culture is an ingredient of an overall dependency syndrome which prevents societies captured in it from becoming active and self– determined. This, he says, makes it difficult for those communities to graduate from the twinges of the entrenched poverty.
“Even if an organisation offers advice, assistance or other support, people are not interested unless they get an allowance. That kind of expectation is deep rooted in our society and has engulfed almost all spheres of life. Not even faith institutions or seemingly highly motivated non-governmental organisations are free from it,” he says.
Scholars argue that once allowances become part of the accepted transactions, they consume substantial parts of budgets, hence reducing activity and investment resources and eventually contributing to ineffective projects and programmes.
For civic education institutions such as Nice, the allowance syndrome poses a big challenge as the organisations’ ability and capacity to conduct activities would be severely impaired in the short run, and curtailed in the long term.
On the other hand, the institutions would be encouraging a behavioural pattern in direct conflict with democracy and self-determination.
“At Nice, we encourage the use of the concept of goat culture instead of lunch allowances. Goat culture goes a long way in instilling sense of collective responsibility, ownership, self-help and self-reliance, thereby fighting the chronic effects of the handouts syndrome,” Kalawa says.
“Civic education can only be conducted in a sustainable manner if we somewhat de-commercialise it. No institution has money that can handle civic education sustainably if people always expect to be paid for attending activities,” he adds.
Goat culture denotes using locally available resources for sustainable development. This concept renders an opportunity to communities to take charge of their destiny by providing a conducive environment for the change process to take place.
A typical goat culture entails preparation of meals for the activities to replace allowances. The meals are prepared by the local people themselves and sometimes by volunteers.
It also includes the use of locally available resources, facilitators, organisers, venues, learning materials, transport and already mobilised groups.
According to Kalawa, the success of the goat culture largely depends on the full involvement of the community at both planning and execution levels.
“For instance, an officer would make a preparatory visit, where issues of logistics and budgeting for the goat culture are discussed. Materials are purchased locally by the communities with the help of volunteers who have been oriented on basic financial management skills so that they are able to bring valid receipts.
“Finally, the facilitators, resource persons, and organisers eat together with the participants, using local utensils and dining places. This is important because this scenario acts as a motivational factor to the communities, who cherish the fact that the facilitators from the “Boma” are even so humble to dine with the local people,” he says.
Apart from disorienting people from the allowance syndrome, this process also renders an opportunity to the facilitators to have an in depth understanding of the communities’ complex social, economical and geographical profile.
It also creates and enhances a sense of ownership in the process since they effectively participate in both the preparatory stages and the actual implementation of the activities.
“You can also see that through this interaction the social gap between the facilitators and communities is reduced, leading to integration and openness and the sense of solidarity and collective responsibility is rekindled,” Kalawa says.
According to Nice, goat culture also helps to forge partnerships with the people and move their wisdom as a means of inculcating virtues, giving an opportunity to communities to share their opinions, values, observations and advising on the understanding of the existing desirable and undesirable situations.
Additionally the concept gives chances to communities to own the problems and become content experts while Nice becomes a process expert in a process that leads to the desired change. Most importantly, it deflects the expectations of the participants about receiving an allowance and prepares the ground for the acceptance of a normal relationship between the service provider and the client.
“This concept implies a high sense of empowerment as the process is progressively and fully owned by the community which takes charge of the steering wheel of development to ensure sustainability and entrenchment of people power.
“It’s a concept that believes in people-centred approach so that we understand their pain as well as test their emotional attachment to the issues as they are propelled to action,” Kalawa says.
Currently, Nice is involved in civic education covering a number of areas including regional economic integration in Southern Africa, elections and governance, Covid 19 sensitisation and awareness, access to justice, peace building, among others.
To execute such activities, Nice uses a trained functional structure of about 10 000 volunteers who produce a multiplier effect on the messages from the organisation. In a way, this reduces the cost of service delivery and ensures sustainability of the activities being conducted.
Before Malawi had attained democracy in 1994, communities used to organise themselves during a Youth Week to build school blocks, clear foot paths and roads, cleaning markets and conducting other similar voluntary work without expecting to be paid.
However, t h e dawn o f democracy also brought with it a dependency culture which is blamed for propelling an allowance syndrome amongst the citizens.
Poor government policies including political appeasement resulting in hand outs, competition among service providers, social economic factors and misunderstanding of the concept of democracy have all exacerbated the situation.
The creation of the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity in the country underscores the fact that there is need for intensified civic education on several matters affecting the country. Minister responsible Timothy Mtambo acknowledged in his first 100 days report that lack of resources remains a challenge in the provision of civic education.
Thus, in an era of scarce resources and a booming demand for services, goat culture remains the most relevant and surest way for sustainable provision of civic education on the 21st century issues and challenges including governance, elections, pandemics and other crosscutting matters.
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